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Should we aim for a pure church?

nobody-knows

I have just been doing some writing on the anthropology of the Book of Revelation, and it is quite a challenging topic. In exploring how a book depicts human existence, you might (for example, in Paul’s letters) look at theological terminology or (for example, in the gospels) explore the narrative construction of reality. Neither of these is really an option for Revelation, because of its distinctive form—a mixed genre letter/prophecy/apocalypse in vision report form constructed from a series of disconnected narrative segments.

So I have focused instead on the depiction of the human agents within the text. One thing that has been very striking, which I don’t think I had really appreciated before, is the sheer variety of human life depicted. Revelation offers a dramatic and differentiated description of humanity in general, mentioning specific roles and titles (kings, nobility, generals, the wealthy, the mighty in 6.15; merchants, sea captains, seafarers, sailors, traders of sea goods in 18.11, 17) and well as more general ‘gradable antonyms’ (pairs of terms at opposite ends of a spectrum) that use Semitic contrast to indicated the whole of humanity (rich and poor, great and small, slave and free, 13.16). On top of that there are numerous groups and individuals in the messages (not ‘letters’; all of Revelation is a letter) to the seven assemblies—Antipas, those holding the teaching of Balaam, Jezebel, the Nicolaitans, those who are a ‘synagogue of Satan’. I am not sure there is a document in the New Testament which such a varied collection of characters!


But once we start to explore these characters, things begin to get interesting. Who are these groups and individuals, and what did they do? Take the Nicolaitans, for example. They are mentioned in a number of the church fathers, but we are not provided with any more information than we find in the text of Revelation:

But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. (Rev 2.6)

Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. (Rev 2.15).

Our earliest commentator on this group is Irenaeus, in Against Heresies 1.26.3:

The Nicolaitanes are the followers of that Nicolas who was one of the seven first ordained to the diaconate by the apostles. They lead lives of unrestrained indulgence. The character of these men is very plainly pointed out in the Apocalypse of John, [when they are represented] as teaching that it is a matter of indifference to practise adultery, and to eat things sacrificed to idols. Wherefore the Word has also spoken of them thus: But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate.

His first claim, that this group are followers of the Nicolas mentioned in Acts 6.5, seems to have been inferred simply from their name, rather than on any external evidence. The second major claim is that they practice immorality and eat food offered to idols—but Irenaeus seems to have inferred this from their juxtaposition with ‘those who hold to the teaching of Balaam’ in Rev 2.14. The connection between the two is the ‘likewise’ in 2.15—but this word refers to the ‘holding to the teaching of…’ rather than to the content of the teaching itself. The summary of Balaam’s teaching doesn’t bear much relation to the account in Numbers 22, but it a typical characterisation of it found in other writings of the time (including 2 Peter 2.15 and Jude 11).

The bottom line, then, is that we simply don’t know. On one of our favourite TV quiz shows, QI, there is once in the show when Stephen Fry offers a ‘trick’ question—not trick in the sense of having a clever answer, but a trick in the sense that nobody knows the answer. Contestants have a ‘Nobody Knows’ sign and they get points if they wave it at the right moment. This is one of those moments: who are the Nicolaitans and what did they teach? NOBODY KNOWS. That has not, of course, prevented people presenting papers on them (I heard one a few years ago at the British New Testament Conference) or even writing whole books! But all of this is speculation. Given the etymology of the word (‘conquerors of the people’) I strongly suspect that John is in fact coining the term to highlight a dangerous teaching, and that there probably wasn’t a recognisable, existing social group with this name at all.


This highlights a persistent feature of the interpretation of Revelation. Considering historical context in reading Revelation is very important, and has become popular since the work of Ramsay a hundred years ago and its recovery by Colin Hemer 40 years ago. But there are many things we don’t know historically, and there are limits to our historical insight. Oddly, popular commentators often ignore the things we do know (such as the identity of the man’s name encoded in 666, Rev 13.18) but build fantastic castles of theological fancy based on things we don’t know.

Here is a great example from Pat Robertson‘s Christian Broadcasting Network:

Antipas was the bishop of Pergamum, ordained by the Apostle John, and his faith got the attention of the priests of Asklepios. He had cast out so many devils that the demons had been complaining to pagans, saying, ‘You’ve got to do something about this Antipas’.

The pagan priests went to the Roman governor and complained that the prayers of Antipas were driving their spirits out of the city and hindering the worship of their gods.  As punishment, the governor ordered Antipas to offer a sacrifice of wine and incense to a statue of the Roman emperor and declare that the emperor was “lord and god.”

Antipas refused. Antipas was sentenced to death on the Altar of Zeus… “They would take the victim, place him inside the bull, and they would tie him in such a way that his head would go into the head of the bull. Then they would light a huge fire under the bull, and as the fire heated the bronze, the person inside of the bull would slowly begin to roast to death. As the victim would begin to moan and to cry out in pain, his cries would echo through the pipes in the head of the bull so it seemed to make the bull come alive.”

This is all gripping stuff, and makes Revelation seem suddenly relevant to contemporary life—especially when you realise that the evil socialist Barak Obama modelled his convention stage on the altar of Zeus which is the throne of Satan! But in fact all of the detail is speculation; we know nothing historically about Antipas or the nature of his death. What it does do, of course, is serve the political and theological purposes of the writer!


So what do we learn from the Nicolaitans? (I had planned to call this post ‘What have the Nicolaitans ever done for us?’). There are two quite striking things about John’s depiction of the early church communities in the seven cities that he selects (from the much larger number that has Christian communities—I haven’t yet found a convincing theory as to why these seven). The first is that they are a very mixed bunch. Just like the Pauline churches, there are plenty of things under dispute, and on some similar issues—sexual morality (unless this is a metaphor for idolatry), food offered to idols, and the Judaizers (‘synagogue of Satan’). If you think the church you belong to is a rather mixed bag, you are in good company!

But the second striking thing is that, despite some unequivocal words of judgement, John does not expel or exclude those caught up in this teaching—or even promulgating it. It is not even clear, for example, that ‘Jezebel’ has been excluded from the communities; rather to the contrary, the risen Jesus emphasises that ‘I have given her time to repent’ (2.21), and her followers have the same opportunity. I am tempted to think that John’s failure to tell us the content of this teaching is quite deliberate; the issue is not so much the teaching itself so much as how we relate to things that are misleading.

Despite the strong binaries elsewhere in Revelation, John’s strategy for seeking a ‘pure church’—there is no doubt he has such a strategy—has this distinctive relational dynamic, in line with his identity as a pastor who knows his communities. He urges the communities to reform their understanding and renew their teaching in line with Jesus, the ‘faithful witness’. But he is reluctant to expel and exclude.


I cannot help observing that our own strategies tend to be exactly the opposite. Many of the voices calling for purity appear to want to achieve this by excluding those they disagree with, redrawing the lines of membership. But other voices, concerned to avoid such exclusion, also avoid the call to reform the teaching of the church and the urgent need to be faithful to the truth.

Yesterday, in the liturgical calendar, we celebrated the feast of St Mark, and prayed this collect:

Almighty God,
who enlightened your holy Church
through the inspired witness of your evangelist Saint Mark:
grant that we, being firmly grounded
in the truth of the gospel,
may be faithful to its teaching both in word and deed;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

I think it is a prayer that John would have been happy to pray—and one that perhaps we need to take more seriously.


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25 Responses to Should we aim for a pure church?

  1. Phill April 26, 2016 at 10:18 am #

    Hi Ian,

    I don’t know that you really answer the question. How do we seek for purity in the church without excluding? Especially when we think about the Church of England, which is a real mixed bag.

    I note that just before the verse about the Nicolaitans, Jesus says: “If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” I think there does come a point where a church has apostasised to such an extent that it ceases to be a church – I think this is what is happening with TEC in America.

    It seems that exclusion sometimes is a Biblical principle when the issue at stake is high enough (e.g. 1 Cor 5:11; Gal 1:8-9; and even 1 Tim 1:20). And in Jesus’ own teaching about reconciliation within the church, he outlines a three step process (Matthew 18:15-17) – if people do not listen, then “treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector”. Maybe not expulsion from the church, but surely this would mean stepping down from any church leadership roles etc.

    2 John 10-11 “Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work”

    So it does seem like there is a wisdom call we need to make about an appropriate response to error in different situations. I think we need to be more strict with those responsible for teaching the faith (James 3:1) but apart from that it’s not really clear.

    • Matt Sheffield April 26, 2016 at 3:37 pm #

      Ian’s question wasn’t “How do we seek for purity in the church without excluding?”, it was “Should we aim for a pure church?”, which is critically different.

      The question seems fairly rhetorical anyway. We should seek purity, I imagine all of us would agree on that, but contrary to common opinion (at least in Ian’s perception of ‘common opinion’) we tend to focus on exclusion as the primary means to achieve this, or even the ‘only’ way.

      If there are biblical precedents and examples for holding divisive issues between churches/leaders in balance, then it is right and good practice to explore them.

      That said, “How…?” is the far more complicated and interesting debate, but I think it’s being avoided deliberately here for exactly that reason.

  2. Eric April 26, 2016 at 8:16 pm #

    Hi Paul
    Thanks also for another interesting post. I’d agree, sound teaching is the medicine of the church. In that respect we perhaps ought to take more seriously the teaching role of clergy not least the bishops.

    I was interested in your comments on the Nicolaitans. Thank you for the Irenaeus quote. Funnily enough I’d been reading Irenaeus in another respect just recently. [Here in NZ the Anglican Church is considering blessing same gender marriages and the document going to General Synod in two weeks contains the famous (half) quote from Irenaeus ‘The glory of God is a human fully alive’ .(from book four of adv haereses . .. Unfortunately for the argument of the document, this is only half a quote and taken entirely out of context] I wonder if you are perhaps too easily dismissive of his explanation?? Irenaeus comes from Smyrna and listened to Polycarp himself a disciple of John. So he is not only from the right neck of the woods, but is pretty steeped in the teaching of John it would be fair to assume? Thus perhaps his assertion re the Nicolaitans might perhaps be one due a little more respect.

    Thanks again, as I’d missed this particular quote in my reading

    Blessings

  3. Priscilla White April 27, 2016 at 8:55 am #

    I guess one issue is who defines what purity in the church is? In many of the issues that divide us there is a wide spectrum of opinion and not a simple binary. Likewise people don’t fit into simple camps; a particular view on say the ordination of women doesn’t necessarily mean that a person will have a particular view on same-sex marriage for example. If someone is defining purity on the basis of issues it will come down to. ‘Whether people agree with me on issues I have decided are the criteria for purity’ hence a church becomes noit a gathered community with common purpose but smashed into smithereens, with each individual, or small group, holding themselves as the pure true church against all others.
    If that is purity, then in my opinion it is as travesty of what church should be.

  4. Dale DePriest April 27, 2016 at 9:56 pm #

    I do not believe it is possible to have a pure church filled with sinners. We as individuals need to realize we are answerable to God but the things that are not a salvation issue are what they are. Simply sins, and who among you have not sinned? Even after you were saved. We could, I suppose, kick the gossips out of the church since it is in the list of Romans 1, but to what end? We rate sins as ok to very bad but God treats all sins the same. We must maintain the stability of our local congregation and to that end Elders much enforce the bylaws. But the universal church depends solely on Salvation and that is God’s business not ours. We present the Gospel and people accept or reject but we don’t really know who is saved and who isn’t. And we are not to judge anyway.

    Dale

  5. David Shepherd April 27, 2016 at 11:40 pm #

    Ian,

    This post’s promotion of enduring cohesion must come across as reassuringly pastoral to many who regularly read your posts.

    At the same time, most of your readers would doubtless distance themselves from the theological extremes characterised by Pat Robertson’s fanciful and self-serving exposition.

    In fact, at first glance, it would appear quite correct to maintain faithful witness without necessarily excluding those with whom we disagree. That notion has even prompted one commentator to remark that: ‘If there are biblical precedents and examples for holding divisive issues between churches/leaders in balance, then it is right and good practice to explore them.’

    Of course, the problem here is that a biblical occurrence is not the same as a biblical precedent, the latter being an explicitly authoritative statement,

    For instance, you state: But the second striking thing is that, despite some unequivocal words of judgement, John does not expel or exclude those caught up in this teaching—or even promulgating it. It is not even clear, for example, that ‘Jezebel’ has been excluded from the communities; rather to the contrary, the risen Jesus emphasises that ‘I have given her time to repent’ (2.21), and her followers have the same opportunity.

    An even stranger thing, I think, is how the name ‘Jezebel’ doesn’t immediately connote the ascendancy of religious apostasy, as was the case for Israel during Ahab’s reign.

    John himself, as an exiled prophet, was not unlike Elijah. The very tone of his admonition to the seven churches of Asia demonstrates that, by that time, much authority had shifted significantly away from the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship.

    Paul prophesied to the Ephesians elders that this would happen (Acts 20:30), but reminded them to guard the flock.

    He also wrote to the Thessalonian church: ‘In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us (2 Thess. 3:6,7)

    Again, to the Corinthians, Paul emphasises: ‘I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. (2 Cor. 6:9 – 11)

    In marked contrast, the third epistle of John describes the self-promoting ascendancy gained by one leader who rejected the apostles’ authority: ‘I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.

    Given Diotrephes’ authority, urging the church to withdraw its fellowship would have been a futile measure. Instead, John’s situational response is a promise to confront directly the errant leader’s malicious nonsense.

    Therefore, I would respectfully submit that the cited passages in Revelation do not imply that John ‘is reluctant to expel and exclude’. However much it might appeal to the via media which typifies Anglicanism, Revelation certainly doesn’t provide a precedent for ‘holding divisive issues…in balance’.

  6. Andrew Godsall April 28, 2016 at 12:01 pm #

    David Shepherd: “Of course, the problem here is that a biblical occurrence is not the same as a biblical precedent, the latter being an explicitly authoritative statement,”

    Really? Who decides what the difference is? And what actually does ‘explicitly authoritative’ really mean?

    • David Shepherd April 28, 2016 at 10:25 pm #

      Andrew,

      Christ cured a blind man by commanding him to wash off a mud paste from his eyes in the Pool of Siloam. Was that a biblical occurrence or a biblical precedent?

      In respect of the Lord’s Supper, Christ also commanded His disciples to ‘do this in remembrance of me’. Was that a biblical occurrence or a biblical precedent?

      You’re the priest, while I’m a mere uneducated layman. You tell me whether the latter is an ‘explicitly authoritative statement’ or not.

      • Andrew Godsall April 28, 2016 at 11:02 pm #

        Ahh David so are you saying, in response to my rather straightforward question, that lay people can’t decide what the difference is but Priests can? Is that your answer?

        But who decides which bits are explicitly authoritative? I’m really keen to know your answer.

        And does it apply to OT and NT alike? Is the book of Job full of explicitly authoritative statements for example? Or just the bits where Jesus is given words by the Gospel writers and the bits of Paul we especially like?

        • David Shepherd April 29, 2016 at 7:49 am #

          Tongue-in-cheek, Andrew. I’m suggesting that, as a priest, you are better positioned than me to explain the basis for your own church’s perpetuation of celebrating the Lord’s Supper (despite the philosophical scrutiny that may have caused you to observe it in silent protest for all these years!)

          So, in your priestly capacity, upon what or whose authority do you continue to accept the celebration of the Lord’s Supper?

          What is it about the particular bits of writing and traditions of Christ purportedly saying to His apostles ‘do this in remembrance of me’ that make you feel that the story of Lord’s Supper remains perpetually applicable to the entire church? If it is an ordinance, is it from God or from man?

          Of course, I’m answering a question about authority with a question. If I err in doing so, it’s in good company! (Luke 20:4)

          • Andrew Godsall April 29, 2016 at 8:45 am #

            There’s never a problem answering questions with a question David and I’m glad to be in good company with you in that.

            The ordinance for going on celebrating the Lord’s supper in the way that we do is primarily tradition rather than scripture isn’t it? The early church did it. They wrote about doing it in the scriptures. As to whether that means the ordinance is human or divine – well, I don’t think you can make that particular binary actually. It doesn’t compute.

            So back to my question to you: who decides which bits of scripture are occurrences and which are precedents? And why are you so reluctant to answer that, having out it out there in the first place?

          • David Shepherd April 29, 2016 at 9:35 am #

            Andrew,

            Not reluctance. You’ve simply evaded my question by claiming it doesn’t compute?

            What’s meant by ‘I don’t think you can make that particular binary?’ Was it ordained of God, or was it just a bit of early church nostalgia?

            You really haven’t answered my question either. Why not?

  7. Andrew Godsall April 29, 2016 at 9:57 am #

    David: I have answered it. I suspect you just don’t agree with my answer.
    But I don’t think you can say that EITHER it was ordained of God OR human beings – it’s both/and not either/or. Human beings are made in the image of God aren’t they? The fall doesn’t deny or negate that does it?
    And do you think the early Church had nothing to do with writing the scriptures? Nostalgia has nothing to do with it. Scripture and tradition are just heavily intertwined in the example you want to focus on.

    So back to my question to you: who decides which bits of scripture are occurrences and which are precedents? And why are you so reluctant to answer that, having put it out there in the first place?

    • David Shepherd April 29, 2016 at 4:48 pm #

      Andrew,

      Article 25 states: There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord

      The Article also distinguishes five others commonly called sacraments in this way: ‘being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles, partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures, but yet have not like nature of Sacraments with Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God.

      In contrast with this, you claim that this visible sign/ceremony of the Lord’s Supper was ordained both of God and human beings (you used plural).

      Yet, you have no problem with the bits of that other ‘explicitly authoritative statement’ known as Anglican Canon Law, which enjoins all parishes to commemorate the Lord’s Supper.

      I guess that you must believe that canon law was transmitted directly from heaven. Otherwise you would, on the same basis as your questions about scripture, probe the reasons for the special dignity accorded by the Church to the Lord’s Supper as a Sacrament of the Gospel by mandating its observance in every parish.

      My basis for distinction between biblical occurrence and biblical precedent is exactly the same as the CofE’s basis for treating the Lord’s Supper and baptism as biblical precedents enjoined to this day upon the whole church.

      • Andrew Godsall April 29, 2016 at 7:23 pm #

        Sadly David you sound just like the Pharisees arguing about the finer points of the law.
        Anyone who goes and sits through a service of Holy Communion can see that there is a great deal of human influence on the service. I’m sorry you can’t see that.

        For the record: I don’t believe Canon Law comes straight from God. I’m happy to take issue with lots of it in due process. That’s why I’m on General Synod.

        Your answer to my question is basically that you make your own mind up about which bits of scripture are more important. That’s a shame.

        • Andrew Godsall April 29, 2016 at 7:25 pm #

          Oh and I guess you think the Articles are infallible from what you say here. Again, for the record, I don’t think they are, and neither does the vast majority of the C of E, agreeing that they are ‘historic formularies’.

        • David Shepherd April 29, 2016 at 9:01 pm #

          Andrew,

          Sadly for your argument, you referred to ordained both of God and human beings.

          That is very different from the subsequent effect of ‘human influence’.

          And for you to conflate ordinance with influence to shore up your argument. Now that’s the real shame!

          • Andrew Godsall April 29, 2016 at 9:08 pm #

            Once again, David, you just argue like the scribes and Pharisees and don’t engage with the real question here. But so long as that makes you happy.

            Were the Articles ORDAINED? Or are they purely human creations?

          • David Shepherd April 29, 2016 at 11:40 pm #

            Just to be clear. It was in response to my question about the Lord’s Supper that you responded with the assertion that it was ordained both of God and human beings.

            And you equate this demand for clarity to the legalism of scribes and Pharisees.

            Synod member indeed!

  8. Andrew Godsall April 30, 2016 at 7:01 am #

    Well David if you really want to be picky over this – and you obviously do – the Lord’s supper was instituted by Jesus Christ, who was indeed both divine and human.

    Now – were the Articles ordained or are they purely human creations?

    And I’m still waiting for you to tell me how you distinguish between bits of scripture that are occurrences and which set precedents. But I’m not holding my breath….

    And yes indeed, I am a member of General Synod.

    • Phillip Mutchell April 30, 2016 at 9:34 am #

      Jesus both divine and human – hmm ‘a man ordained of God’ yes, a ‘mediator between God and man – the human Christ Jesus’ yes; both divine and human, now that’s ‘Church’ tradition.
      Lord’s supper is ‘until I come’ now that was in AD70 or Jesus’ prophecies were false and he is to be rejected as a liar.

      Every ‘Church’ misuses scripture and practices exclusion, in whatever form, against those who won’t submit to the ruling hegemony. On Europe Ian talks about voting for the ‘common good’ and who defines that, is it the common good to include those who desire but to breed and exploit a country which no longer hears the apostle insist ‘if they won’t work let them not eat’

      The C of E is just reflecting the culture it is in as it always has done. ‘The hireling fleeth because he is an hireling’.

      Polycarp is a perfect example of that Will to Power which removes the simplicity that is in Christ to ‘ordained’ authority and with that pious egotism which dies dreaming of glory, even though Jesus’ commanded his servants to flee to another city if they could thereby preserve their life, scribbles his epistles/memoirs to ensure he got it. Oh Andrew; this is a command ‘call no man father upon earth’ and this is church ‘father brown’ investigates, if you reply please address me as saint Phillip. Cheers love and peace from the only true God – the Father.

    • David Shepherd April 30, 2016 at 3:06 pm #

      Andrew,

      You earlier wrote, ‘both God and human beings’: the latter being plural.

      Now, Christ is both divine and human, but He did not institute the Lord’s Supper as a plurality of humans.

      You are tiringly wrong again!

      • Andrew Godsall April 30, 2016 at 4:18 pm #

        Well David that was one you have won then isn’t it?
        Now please could you tell me:

        How do you, or anyone else, discern the difference between a biblical occurrence and a biblical prudence?

        Are the articles ordained, or are they purely human creations?

        Where does the word ‘ordained’, which you seem so keen on using in relation to the Lord’s supper, occur in Scripture?

        You don’t seem very keen to answer questions. Maybe you don’t actually have any answers……

        • David Shepherd May 5, 2016 at 6:20 am #

          The word, ordain, meaning “to decree, enact” is from c.1300; sense of “to set (something) that will continue in a certain order” is from early 14c. It’s in that latter sense that I have used it.

          So, in relation to the Lord’s Supper, you are questioning whether Christ setting it ‘to continue in a certain order’ (as is meant by ordained) occurs in scripture. The account of Jesus’ specific Passover preparations show that the form and matter of the sacrament were quite specifically set in order by Christ.

          St. Paul also makes it clear that ‘do this in remembrance of me’ extended beyond just the apostles. He tells the Corinth church: ‘For I received from the Lord what I also passed on [paradoke] to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread,…’ (1 Cor. 11:23) St. Paul reminds us the significance of these elements to our own spiritual encounter with Jesus. It is a ‘communion with the body [and blood] of Christ’

          St. Paul passing on what he received regarding the Lord’s Supper required Christ to have ‘set it to continue in a certain order’. Therefore, Christ ordained it.

          The scope of these traditions went beyond the Lord’s Supper. As St. Paul explains: ‘I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions [paredoseis] just as I passed them on [paredoka] to you.’ (1 Cor. 11:2) Clearly, the Lord’s Supper, i.e. ‘the breaking of bread’, was a part of that apostolic tradition. It was a recorded precedent passed on from Christ by the apostles and laid down by Christ.

          The written apostolic reference to something being instituted for the Church by Christ distinguishes what I called biblical precedent (such as the Lord’s Supper) from biblical occurrence (such a washing eyes in the Pool of Siloam)

          As Phill has explained, St. Paul’s discipline of exclusion echoes Christ’s own sayings in the matter. Christ had established a precedent, which was captured in apostolic writings.

          By comparison, it’s unsound to bypass this precedent in order to highlight one passage in Revelation as the basis for tenuous inference that sound teaching without the ultimate and reluctantly applied sanction of exclusion.

          Of course, Ian’s inference may well resonate with you and others at Synod signalling fresh overtures towards the liberal wing of the Church about how ‘good disagreement’ might work, having discovered this supposed theological basis for the next Elizabethan Settlement, which pre-empts the threat of either side’s Exodus over issues like church blessing of same-sex sexual relationships.

          Regardless of how the epithet of ‘peacemaker’ (apparently, at any price) will wend its way into descriptions of those who propose this new ‘way forward’. It’s all just so utterly and sickeningly predictable.

          St. Paul is clear about the importance of maintaining the traditions as they were passed on: ‘In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the traditions (paradosin) you received from us.’(2 Thess. 3:6) That’s in stark contrast to sound teaching that avoids exclusion.

          The biblical writings capture how the apostles passed on what they received from Christ.

          In 2 Corintians, regarding divorce and re-marriage, St. Paul also distinguishes what he passes on from Christ. Paul is careful that his application to deserted Gentiles doesn’t contradict this.

          The apostles clearly implemented Christ’s Commission to pass on His teachings without trying to dilute them: ‘teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’(Matt. 28:20)

          Instead of speculative revisionism, we would all do well to follow their example.

  9. Andrew Godsall April 30, 2016 at 7:52 am #

    Oh and David where does this word ‘ordained’ in relation to the Lord’s supper occur in scripture please? I’d just like to check the reference and the context…..

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